The New York City Council on Thursday is set to approve a measure that will allow for noncitizens who are legal residents to vote in local elections.
Under the bill, individuals who have lived in the city for at least 30 days and are legal permanent residents in the US – including green card holders, individuals with workers permits and DACA holders – will be allowed to vote in city elections, including mayor, public advocate, borough president and city council.
Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, the prime sponsor of the legislation and an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, told CNN the bill is about championing the issue of “no taxation without representation.”
“If they pay their taxes, they should be able to elect their leaders,” said Rodriguez, who added that his own background as a green card holder from 1983 to 2000 has inspired his push for passage of the bill.
The bill would expand voting rights to nearly 800,000 residents, according to Rodriguez’s office. If passed, it would take effect on January 1, 2022, and make New York the largest jurisdiction to expand voting rights to noncitizens.
Anu Joshi, vice president of policy at New York Immigrant Coalition, said the issue is about letting all city residents participate in the democratic process.
“This is set to be a transformative piece of legislation that will really ensure that all New Yorkers – noncitizen New Yorkers who live here, who are raising children here, who shop in our stores, who own small businesses – the opportunity to have a say, in our democracy. We think that we all will be better off when people who are invested in this city are able to participate in our democracy,” Joshi said.
The bill is expected to pass with a veto-proof supermajority of 35 of 51 council members in support.
Critics of the legislation include Bronx Councilman Ruben Diaz, a Democrat, who has called the legislation “dangerous and misguided.”
“I fully support our immigrant community, but I also respect our laws and cherish my privilege as an American citizen to vote,” Ruben said in a statement on Monday.
Questions over logistics
The new legislation will task the city board of elections with creating a new municipal voter registration form, implementing staff trainings and notifying individuals of their new voting rights.
However, a new set of voters could pose some challenges to city’s elections board who in the last year has been plagued with election issues. In June, the NYC BOE botched the release of the city’s first ranked choice voting results amid the mayoral primary. And in November 2020, nearly 100,000 voters received defective absentee ballots amid the 2020 general election due to a printing error the board blamed on the vendor, according to The New York Times.
Additionally, election officials will need to make “separate municipal-only ballot for municipal voters” if a city election includes federal questions or elections, according to Joshi.
“So the Board of Elections will have ample time resources and support to ensure a successful implementation of this legislation. And we are prepared to hold them accountable to implementing the vote legislation fairly in time for the next New York City election in 2023,” Joshi told CNN.
Republicans raise legal concerns
The legislation has brought up some legal concerns, most recently from state Republicans who argue that the bill undermines the credibility of local elections and interferes with the integrity of state elections. The New York state GOP has vowed to take action against the legislation, including taking “any legal action necessary to prevent the bill from becoming law.”
“If they [noncitizens] want to vote here, they should go through the process of becoming citizens, because that is how you show a real commitment to being a part of this city and this country. The stakes are too high, the problems we face in this city are too big, for us to give away the most quintessential right of American citizenship to someone who has only lived here for 30 days,” said Council Minority Leader Borelli at the press conference last Friday.
The 30-day requirement under the bill is in line with the current election requirement that all voters must reside in the city for 30 days before they can participate in an election.
Richard Pildes, professor of constitutional law at New York University, told CNN that the bill falls within the city’s right to determine who can vote in local elections.
“As a constitutional or legal matter, it’s as long as they are bona fide residents of the city, it doesn’t violate the US Constitution to do it,” said Pildes, who also noted that there is historical precedent for the issue.
Some critics of the legislation argue it could discourage individuals from seeking citizenship.
“I understand if folks say, hey, I’m somewhere on the pathway to citizenship, I’d like to be more involved. I respect that. I do understand that impulse,” said NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio at a press conference late in late November when expressing reservations about the bill. “But I also have feelings about the value of citizenship and wanting to encourage people to become citizens fully, and there’s a lot of people who do not pursue full citizenship, even though they can, and that to me is an issue.”
The mayor has said he won’t veto the bill. Regardless, there is expected to be a veto-proof majority of 34 lawmakers including support from the Speaker of the Council.
Handful of jurisdictions already allow noncitizen voting
Originally in New York state, according to a 2014 report from the City College of New York’s Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership, “gave the vote to all white male residents – citizen or non-citizen – who owned property and declared allegiance to the state.”
By 1804, the state required citizenship to vote and nearly twenty years later, according to the report, state law defined citizenship loosely as American citizenship.
Today, a handful of jurisdictions in the US allow noncitizens to vote
Nine Maryland cities allow noncitizens to vote in local or school board elections including Takoma Park just outside of Washington, DC. Since 1993, legal residents have been able to vote in mayor and city council elections, according to Takoma Park Clerk Jessie Carpenter.
“We pride ourselves on being a welcoming and inclusive city and allowing all our residents to vote is an important part of that,” Carpenter said to CNN.
San Francisco has allowed for noncitizens to vote in school board elections since voters passed a charter amendment in 2016. Noncitizens there were first able to vote in 2018, according John Arntz, the city’s Elections Director. He said there hasn’t been any issues with legal permanent residents voting with a handful of individuals participating.
Earlier this year, two towns in Vermont – Montpelier and Winooski – extended the right to noncitizens to vote in local elections after Democrats in the state house overrode a veto from Republican Gov. Phil Scott.
“My specific bill is part of a larger conversation around the push to ensure that people have a say so that people have a chance to be able to have their voices heard in their children’s education, because school board leaders have a direct impact on that,” Illinois Sen. Celina Villanueva told CNN. The Democrat introduced legislation this year that would allow for noncitizens to vote in school board elections.